Belle & Sebastian - Leeds Town Hall - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Belle & Sebastian - Leeds Town Hall

by Rich Morris Rating:9 Release Date:2011-12-17

Unfortunately, Dum Dum Girls pulled out of tonight’s support slot, so instead we get Lower Dens warming up the stage. The Baltimore band distinctly lack the flash and fizz of Dee Dee and co, it has to be said. With a set focussing, as far as I can tell, entirely on the moody, synthy post-punk of new album Escape From Evil, their music is stately and elegant but also struggles to be more than aural wallpaper to the chattering and rustling of the still-arriving crowd.

While burly soundmen lug equipment on stage, the audience is ‘treated’ to a 1971 documentary, Glasgow 1980, which hypothesises what the great Scottish city will be like in… Ah, you’re ahead of me there. At half-an-hour’s length, it’s hard not to begrudge the fact that we could have had another band for our money. Plus, clips from the film were used in the excellent, moving video to Belle & Sebastian’s ‘Nobody’s Empire’, which you can catch on YouTube for free. Apart from a briefly entertaining section on Glasgow’s nightlife, showing some tamely partying clubbers put to a soundtrack of awesome 70s library music, I mostly spend the duration of the film becoming gradually aware of the fact my feet hurt.

But when Belle & Sebastian begin their set with an utterly gorgeous rendition of ‘Nobody’s Empire’, all is instantly forgiven and any aches forgotten. Unsurprisingly, the band frontload their set with songs from last year’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, most of which, to be honest, aren’t quite up there with their best, but which are enlivened with some fantastic, imaginative, specially-made (I assume) videos.

Add to this the group’s impeccable musicianship, complete with strings and brass, and Stuart Murdoch proving what a world-class frontman he has become, and you have everything you need for a near-perfect gig. Murdoch has the crowd in the palm of his hand throughout, chatting to us about the ornate, slightly confusing architecture of the venue, ducking into the crowd to dance among us, even nicking that old trick beloved of Bono and Springsteen by plucking a lady on stage to serenade. Yeah, it’s naff, but it works.

As the gig reaches its midpoint, the band delve all the way back to their debut album for spine-tingling, sing-along renditions of ‘The State I Am In’ and ‘Electronic Renaissance’, the latter performed against a backdrop of 90s video game clips. We also get the strolling folk of ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’, the knockabout piano-pop of ‘Funny Little Frog’, and ‘The Boy With the Arab Strap’, during which a polite request for a stage invasion results in a mob of indie scruffs, aged from puberty to 40-something, boogying and clapping along.

The band bugger off briefly and then return to play us a rapturously received ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’. And with that, they bugger off again for good. It’s been a funny gig on paper: not many ‘hits’ – no ‘Legal Man’, ‘Step into My Office, Baby’, or ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ – and an overlong old film about Glasgow, but a genuine and heartfelt connection between musicians and audience, with both band and fans looking thoroughly joyous and fulfilled by the end. 

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